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Primitive inhabitants in Kerala are only about two hundred thousand now and these are scattered in the jungles and hills of the state prominants. There are about 35 different types of tribals, among whom the Kurichiyar, Nayadi, Mullakurumbar, Uralikurumbar, Paniya, Mudaga, Irula, Ernadar, Kadar, Muthuvan, Kanikkar, Uralees, Paliyan, Malavedan, Vettuvar, Eravallan, Veda and Malayan are the notable ones.

Each of these aboriginal tribes has its own distinct dance tradition and invariably all of them are interwoven with the life of the people who perform peculiar dances so much so that it seems that some of their daily tasks are set in rhythmic pattern. In the background of mystery shrouded nature, tribal celebrations originate and the dances work up intoxicating excitement; manifesting physical expressions of their joys and griefs, hopes and fears.

Some times the dancing is extremely simple and consists of little more than shuffling of the feet or waving of the hands. At other times it is swaying of the body to the clapping of hands or beating of primitive drums to mark time. Yet another form shows only the monotonous movement of the hands and feet. But generally speaking, a wide range of movements involving all parts of the body, the head, back hips, arms, fingers and the feet and even facial muscles are utilized in tribal dances

There are very complicated tribal dances as well in which dancing harmonises gesture, expressing the whole gamut of sentiment, where rhythm is kept by swaying the body and intricate steps executed with adept foot-work. Usually the dances have a slow beginning, but gather momentum and work up to a heavy tempo of the vociferous climax of the drums, and the ecstacy of the ever-mounting rhythm of spontaneous music. Many of these dances are heroic or martial in character.

Some tribes have songs to accompany their dances. Either the dancers themselves sing or the on-lookers sing and thus every one participates in the whole exercise. Special musical instruments are sometimes used, but the drum is almost an indispensable feature. The costumes of the dancers vary from approximate nudity to full attire and ornaments which are extremely colourful.

Like all tribal arts, Kerala's tribal dances are also spontaneous. It is the most direct expression of the inner most spirit of a people and the instinct of rhythm is as natural and basic as human nature.

Some of the better known tribal dances of Kerala are Elelakkaradi, Kadarkali, Kurumbarkali, Paniyarkali, Edayarkali, Mudiyattam and Vedarkali.



This is a highly heroic group-dance in which almost the whole community of men, women and children participate. The dance is very common with the tribals called Irular of Attappadi in Palakkad district. The dance brings out the fight of the people against the wild boars which very often attack their tribal hamlets.


Only women partake in this primitive dance of the Kaadar tribes of the forests of Kochi area. The performers arrange themselves in a semicircle. They hold the tip of their clothes in their hands to the level of the waist and wave it to various rhythms of the dance. It is a very simple but elegant tribal dance in slow steps.

Waynad district has different types of hill tribes of which the Kurumbar and the Kattunayakar are the most prominent ones.. They perform a special type of dance which is staged in connection with marriages.
This is a group dance of the Kanikkar tribes. The dance is performed as a rural offering. The steps of the dancers perfectly synchronise with the waving of the hands and the beating of the drums.
Paniyar are another set of tribals inhabiting the hilly forests of Wayanad district. Their dance is highly masculine and only men participate. Here the dancers numbering about eight or ten stand in a circle with hands linked together. They move around with rhythmic flexions of the body.

The Ramayana episode in which Sita is being enchanted by Maricha in the guise of a golden deer is enacted in graceful movements.

Gadhika is a ritual dance performed by Adiya tribes of Waynad district. The art form is meant to cure ailments. The performance is also done as part of a ritual for having had a safe delivery of child.

It is mixed dance of the aboriginals of the dense forest of Travancore area in which both men and women participate. They dance holding arms together, or shoulder to shoulder, linked in a backlock posture. The dance develops into variety of pleasing pattern, in which the men and women change their positions with amazing speed.

Koorankali is another tribal dance which is similar to Mankali. Here one man
enacts the role of a wild boar while another enacts the role of a hunting dog. The movements are perfectly timed to the rhythmic beats of primitive drums. While this is going on, the large number of onlookers who form a circle round the two dancers, shout wild cries of joy with occasional clapping of hands and jerky dances.

Thavalakali is a tribal dance in which a number of participants, usually boys, jump one above the other in succession, imitating the leaps of the frogs.
Edaya nritham is the dance of the tribal shepherds. Both men and women participate with One of the shepherds acting as the lead singer. This is repeated in chorus by all the rest. As the singing is in progress, one from the group imitates the special sounds of shepherds driving their sheep.
Mudiyattom, also known as Neelilayattom, is a tribal dance in which only women partake. The women stand on small wooden blocks and the dance begins with slow and simple movements of the body which culminate in graceful movements of the head. The uncombed hair of the participants flow down and swing in rhythmic waves.

This is particularly popular among the tribes in Wynad and Malappuram districts. It is more ritualistic oriented than pure entertainment. This is usually performed as a pooja to please family deities and also during marriage ceremonies.
When the instruments,Thappu and Kuzhal are being played the naikars begin their performance. With jingling anklets round their legs, they dance in clock-wise and anti-clockwise directions to the accompaniment of the musical instruments.

Architectural skills

Local Paniya tribesmen, whose traditional erumadam tree-platforms inspired the modern day tree houses, now help build and maintain these treehouses. Paniyan literally means one who works in the field, and these were supposed to work for others mainly the nontribals. This group forms the dominant tribals of the State. About 72% of the total Paniya population of the State are found in Wayanad district.Their traditional costumes are attractive. Women of older generation wear ear rings, nose rings, coloured bangles and rolled palm leaves with beads inside from a plant called Abrus precatorius in their dilated earlobes. Their language is of primitive Malayalam dialect with an admixture of Tamil and Tulu words. They normally have a head man called kuttan. They worship trees and the banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis)especially is important for them. They normally will not cut such trees and believe that if any one attempts to cut down these trees theywill face serious problems or will fall sick. They consume wild roots, edible and medicinal herbs, fish, prawns and crabs which are usually found in the wilderness and in the rivers flowing through the jungles..


Traditionally skilled bowmen and hunters

Kurichias are the "high class" among the hill tribes occuping the highest social and economic status. They are basically agriculturists having their own lands and besides they are all skilled bowmen and hunters. They played a heroic role in Pazhassi revolt against the British. They are believed to have been brought to Wayanad by Pazhassi Raja from the plains during his war against the British.These Kurichias have a good tradition of respecting nature in every way. They preserve their habitats in almost pristine conditions even now and have conserved many of the traditional varieties of different crops. They are a very hygienic lot with clean food habits.  Powered By Worldviewer Dot Com (India) Pvt. Ltd.